One of the biggest obstacles my clients face is how to handle sleep training and napping when sending their little one to daycare.

Whether your baby is already on a carefully planned nap schedule or you’re starting one, a problem will certainly arise if your daycare provider doesn’t follow your same schedule.

First and foremost, I always suggest parents try their best to find a daycare the follows a similar schedule that best fits the needs of their child.  After all, sleep is such a crucial element of your little one’s development, and their day to day life, that it should be a primary concern when you’re choosing where they’ll be spending their day.  As a result, I’m a huge advocate of shopping around until you find one that’s on the same page as you, nap-wise.

Unfortunately, there are a finite number of daycare providers in any given area, so it’s possible that your little one has already started going somewhere which only offers one nap a day.  In this instance, the most important thing to do is to communicate your desired schedule. Let the teacher, director, office manager, whomever, know that you’ve been working on a naptime schedule and ask if they can accommodate. If they agree, great, you’re off and running!  Many daycares are elated to have a baby that sleeps a lot and is always happy to have one that goes to sleep easily. Champion sleepers are welcome everywhere they go!

It’s also important to communicate your comfortability level when it comes to allowing your baby to utilize his/her self-soothing strategies.  If you’re okay with a little bit of naptime protest, tell them, but also be exact when discussing your timing threshold. If you choose not to communicate this, most providers will, almost always, soothe the baby to sleep. In addition, they will take every necessary step to soothe the baby back to sleep as soon as they start to make some noise.

Some daycares, however, have a policy regarding crying and will pick the baby up and soothe them as soon as they start crying regardless of your instructions. This can be frustrating if you know your little one will fall asleep after 45 seconds of fussing, but if it’s the policy of the daycare, there’s not much you or the staff can do about it.  It’s best to just focus on how to minimize the effect they have on Bollinger Sleep Consulting’s or any other sleep program’s plan.

Now, let’s move to “sleep props.”  Remember, a sleep prop is anything external your child depends on to help him/her fall asleep. Props can be things such as breastfeeding, bottles, pacifiers, patting, rocking, or even playing with someone’s hair.  If your child depends on one or more of these things then they will find it difficult to get back to sleep without their “prop.” Therefore, let the daycare providers know what you would prefer as far as “sleep props” go, and what you would prefer they avoid. If you’ve just broken a serious soother habit, tell them about it and ask that they avoid offering pacifiers. If the baby has a strong association between rocking and falling asleep, ask that they soothe baby without picking him/her up. Again, most daycare providers are happy to make some arrangements with parents if it means a happy, sleeping baby and a happy, satisfied parent.

The good news is that babies are quite often able to distinguish, somewhat, between sleep routines at daycare and what happens at home. They have an easier time realizing that, even though they might have gotten rocked to sleep in the one environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be getting the same treatment at home. Ultimately, keep that in mind when you’re deciding how much diversion from the plan you’re willing to accept.

The other silver lining is that nap time sleep isn’t quite as deep and “high-quality” as nighttime sleep. The night is when baby really gets the good hours of rejuvenation and restorative effects of a solid snooze, so even though they might be missing out on some nap time, it’s not as bad as if they weren’t getting those hours at night.

Here at Bollinger Sleep Consulting, I’m not usually big on making exceptions to the rules, as routine is such an important part of a baby’s sleep, but sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept the reality of the situation. Work with your daycare, communicate your wishes and explain why it’s important, and whatever they can’t accommodate, well… you might as well accept it and move on.